My favourite hours

Reading chair and books

There is a natural impulse to tally up the year as it draws to a close, and consider what made it memorable, valuable or character-building. It’s a time to pull away from the small concerns and worries of day to day living, and focus on the larger themes or arcs of our lives. It’s the closest that I get to willingly and successfully shrugging off any sense of routine for a time, while I take stock of the year that has been and take aim at the year that might/will be.

The past year feels like it was a significant one for our family, one particularly worth noting, and it appears all the more so when considered from this vantage point. Viewed from almost any other point during the year I might have noted that it felt momentous, but really it would have been easiest to characterize it as challenging, difficult, chaotic or draining. The achievements or milestones would have been too easily clouded by the many things that I, individually, or we, as a family, never did or completed. There are only so many hours in a day, yet it’s all too easy to be tortured by what we didn’t accomplish than it is to celebrate what we have done. At least, I know for me that is true.

I struggle mightily to make peace with the fact that we can’t do everything that we need or would like to be able to do. And yet I also recognize that we can only do a very few things well (even extremely well, if we really work at it), or many things not very well at all. I’d truly rather do one or two or – if I’m lucky – three things well than dabble in all manner of things to no great effect, but it doesn’t make the necessary narrowing of focus any easier. Even though, in fact, I weed out extraneous information or keep my involvement in many matters more superficial, in order to preserve time / energy / motivation for the things that I most need and/or want to do. I do this without even thinking about it, as I suspect most people do.

The thing that gives me greatest pleasure when I think about my family, is the fact that we love books. There are so many things that we are not, but we love to read, together and individually. When nothing else is working, we can usually stop and share a book together, and that shared experience can smooth out all kinds of rough corners. Tonight we read another chapter of one of our current family books, Possessing Genius: The True Account of the Bizarre Odyssey of Einstein’s Brain; on another day we would have picked up where we last left off in Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. That shared story rounded out the day in a way that little else can, and left us looking forward to the next time we sit down together to share one of our books.

Boy reading a book on a sofa

Of course, we all have our own books on the go too, and we’ll take them wherever we might be headed, indoors or out.

Teenage boy reading a book outside

Older boy reading while younger brother plays in water

We read them at home or on holiday, in the middle of the day or at night, wherever and whenever we find a few quiet moments.

Man reading

Our dog, Reggie, seems to fit right into the rhythms of reading and curls up or crashes out somewhere nearby. At the moment, the end of the day often finds Reggie, my husband and myself crammed into the small lower bunk of our youngest son’s bed (we’re reading The Subtle Knife, the second in Philip Pullman’s amazing trilogy). Normally we’d all object to so many of us crammed into such a small space, but it works because we’re caught up in a great story together.

Reading chair and table with books

I’ve written here before about the fact that at any one time I might have seven or eight books on the go, between our family books, the books I’m reading to my younger son, and whatever I’m reading myself, and this is evidenced by the small reading table beside my chair in the living room.

Both the table and the chair were found at local antique shops after moving to our small town a few years ago. The chair has an unusual, diminutive scale, and is just right for me somehow (though I’m not an especially or unusually ‘small’ person). Its fabric is kind of retro and ageless at the same time, and while it’s not something I’d have chosen myself, it tones in quite well with the space it occupies, and sits nicely next to the blue trunk that was one of the first pieces of furniture owned by my parents after they were married.

That chair isn’t the only place I read, but it’s definitely the place I associate with reading most, and it’s definitely one of my very favourite spots in our home. I’ve spent many happy hours there, and I’m hoping to spend many more in that very same place, with a good book or two.

20 thoughts on “My favourite hours

  1. What a beautiful, thoughtfully written post. And I love your chair. I’m a little awed by your pile of books – you’re spanning a fair bit of history and geography there. My own pile is a lot frothier – a biography of Georgette Heyer, a second hand Nevil Shute that I got for Christmas, and the companion book to the TV series “Wartime Farm” – lots of pictures :). I think I associate my reading more with time of day than with place. My first morning off each week always consists of a long sit with a pot of tea and a good book. My bedtime ritual always involves turning a page or two, no matter how tired I am. I don’t really have a ritual place for sitting to read, though my pile of books is always in one place. I have comfort books too – for particular situations or times of stress – I have a tendency to re-read childhood favourites then, like the Anne of Green Gables series.
    Like you, we’ve been fortunate to be able to develop reading together as a family pleasure. Though we haven’t done it this year (yet), for the past several, we have read a “chapter” book aloud – usually a classic, but not always. This originally began as me reading classics aloud on holidays, and then encouraging our daughters as their reading ability developed to take on a paragraph or a character, until they were capable enough to read a chapter. We’ve read many of the same authors you mention in the posts you linked to, plus some others. The Diana Wynne Jones series of Chrestomanci novels were/are a favourite, also the Mysterious Benedict Society trilogy.
    Your post is timely, as the youngest and I were just talking about the fact we hadn’t started a read aloud this winter. You have inspired me take action!

    1. Thank you for your wonderfully detailed (and very supportive) comment. I loved reading about the books in your life, now and over time with your own family. The Wynne-Jones books sound like a great series for us to explore, and I know that my older boy loved the Mysterious Benedict Society books. I’m going through a particularly heavy focus on history in my own reading right now, but last summer was all about great novels (Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn and Life After Life by Kate Atkinson were the highlights thanks to two loans from my closest friend). I’ve never been prone to reading ‘light books’, though I have an appetite for frothy fare as much as anyone else! We all need something lighter now and then, and I guess it varies for each of us. I tend to shift to magazines more when I really need a break; short pieces and lots of visuals are wonderful then! I think re-reading childhood favourites is a truly fine idea; good books with strong memories for us are really special, and there is nothing like revisiting a book to appreciate it in a new light. I have a couple of books from more recent years that I’ve revisited a few times, including The Man Who Loved Children by Australian author Christina Stead, a book that I think is perfect in many ways (apart from one section that I feel is unnecessary) and Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter by Simone de Beauvoir, which I’ve been reading every ten years or so since I was a teenager. I’m truly honoured to know that I may have helped inspire your family to pick up its next shared book together; I’d love to know what you choose! Happy reading :)

    1. Gerry, you have a way of coming along at just the right time with something wonderfully supportive to say. Thank you! And rest assured that Agincourt will remain on the reading table here for you until your next visit!

  2. My wife read to the kids every night into early high school. At Christmas vacation, she read aloud while some of us worked jig saw puzzles. When she wanted to take a break, we would all chime in, “Read more, read more,” until her voice was quite tired. The kids, now as adults, always have a book going. With all the electronic distractions, I’m happy about that. My wife still reads too, (quietly) mostly science like biology, human behavior, how the brain works, which she shares with me the next day. I think she’s trying to catch up on the lack of science courses while she was in parochial school. I’m the only slacker in the family, and for that I offer absolutely no excuses. :-)

    1. Lovely to hear what a reading family yours is too! The refrain of ‘read more, read more’ is so very familiar, I can really relate to your wife’s role. It’s hard to say no or stop when there is such an appreciative audience, and as you note, it builds wonderful habits for a lifetime. Our older son was born a reader, like me, and that has helped a great deal in this electronic age, but the satisfaction in seeing my younger son become a devoted reader is so much the greater, as he had to work so much harder to get there. I feel it is a special victory that he loves books so much, and will now volunteer to read a passage aloud to me if something really strikes him! Thanks for taking the time to share your family’s reading life here.

  3. You and your Husband you have given your kids a great gift, a love for reading. No other gift will enrich their lives as greatly as this one. Best of all, you did without really trying. You led by example. Well done.

    1. Thank you John, it’s so kind of you to take the time to share your thoughts. I think what you say is absolutely right and it’s something I need to remember when things are tough or I’m down on some aspect of the hard job of parenting.

  4. I love this post! Like you, we have stacks of books by our chairs and bookshelves stuffed with books. We too are a family that loves to read. I especially like the picture of your son at the pond reading a book. It so reminds me of our son. I have a picture I took of him on a family vacation to Philadelphia, walking down the street while reading Catch-22. He used to bring books to football games. Fond memories.
    This is the time of year when some people do posts listing the books they read during the year. I enjoy those. Maybe I’ll try to keep track of mine this year.
    Happy reading in 2014!

    1. Thank you Bill! It’s always great to connect with other book lovers, and I love the sound of your book-stuffed environment. What lovely memories of your son, they must make you feel good. I had a friend years ago who always read a book while out walking; she was known to cross the road without missing a page (I always feared for her wellbeing!). I love the idea of tracking what you read, it’s a chance to revisit and reinforce those books and stories. Happy reading to you too!

  5. a beautiful post. Reading takes you places doesn’t it – and sharing reading as a family sounds special to me. I have a favourite chair too, it was my mums and I have it near a window for good light. Somehow it just feels right sitting there with book to hand, Wishing you all a happy new year x

    1. Thank you Claire, and you are so right about books being a means of travel / seeing new places. What a gift they are in that way. Having your mum’s chair for your own special reading spot sounds ever so nice; you do just know when something like that is ‘right’, don’t you. Here’s to all of the books to be newly discovered or enjoyed again in 2014 and beyond – happy new year!

  6. What a thoughtful reflection on the past year. I think we all struggle with that sense that we didn’t make the best with the time we had, but I like to think nothing is ever wasted, that everything counts in the end.

    I really enjoyed reading about your reading adventures with your family. So often reading is such an inward and private act, and while that’s great, it’s sometimes a little isolating. But you and your family have managed to make that into a communal act of bonding as well, and that’s just fantastic. Just warms me up inside reading this!

    1. Thank you Isaac, for the kind words, and I love your description of our reading time together as ‘reading adventures’. That’s very apt. I hope that it’s something we can keep doing as long as possible. My older son is approaching high school graduation in a couple of years, and I can see how things will change, but perhaps we’ll find a way to keep our shared reading, even if it has to be much less frequent or simply different. Wishing you well in your own reading adventures in 2014!

  7. beautiful post! I still remember the last book we started together as a family The Prince and The Pauper. this reminds me of that Ted Talk by Susan Cain where she talked about how her whole family reads and that connection they have even if they are reading different books but in the same room.

    lovely way to end a year – there is always so much that is in front to accomplish but as you say it’s more worthwhile to focus on what you can and celebrate that, rather than see what wasn’t. and to focus on something that is so pleasurable and celebrate that – when it may feel more like recreation – it is still a big accomplishment.

    great reading nook too (and I love The Golden Compass trilogy). : )

    1. Thank you Katherine, and it’s lovely to see you here. I know you’ve been so busy with your studies and new commitments, and I really appreciate you taking the time to come and catch up! I love that your family had a tradition of sharing books too and that the last one sticks out in your mind so clearly. I haven’t actually watched that TED Talk, I’ll definitely check it out. I hope you get some good time for your own reading amidst everything else that you’re doing!

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